As a piano and music theory teacher with over 12 years experience, I have taught minor scales to all my students.
The minor scale is a diatonic scale much like the major scale. There are three types of minor scales for piano and we will look at how to play each of these. This post will take a deep dive into music theory but this is the best way to improve how you play piano.
Before moving on to learning about the three types of piano minor scales, it is important to understand the difference between the major and minor scales and how to form major scales.
The difference between major and minor scales
Major and minor scales have a lot in common. Both the major scales and minor scales have eight notes, including the first and last note which will be the same.
The key difference between major and minor scales is to do with the interval of a third. A major scale has the interval of a major third between the first and third scale degree and a minor scale has the interval of a minor third between the first and third scale degree.
This interval of a third is in all three different minor scales for piano.
How to Form Major Scales
Before moving on to the minor scales it is important to understand how to form a major scale. Major scales and Minor scales have very different structures and patterns.
The major scale follows the following pattern of whole step and half steps.
W W H W W W H
Take for example the C major scale, this scale has the notes C D E F G A B C. Below you can see the pattern of whole steps and half steps within the major scale.
Relative Majors and Minors
Before moving on to the three types of minor scales it is important to look at relative major and minor scales. Every major scale has a relative minor and both of these scales share the same key signature.
The easiest way to learn this is to learn about the circle of fifths. Notice that at the top of the circle of fifths is the C major scale. This is because the C major scale has no sharps or flats. We then move clockwise round the circle moving up in fifths.
The sixth degree of every major scale is the relative minor.
The circle of fifths only lets you know what the relative major and minor scales are. This diagram does not let you know the three different types of minor scale, natural minor scales, harmonic minor scales and melodic minor scales. Read on to find out more about the different types of minor scales.
What are the three types of minor scales for piano
There are three types of minor scales for piano and each has a unique sound. These are:
- The Natural Minor Scale
- The Harmonic Minor Scale
- The Melodic Minor Scale
Let’s look into these in a little more detail.
The Natural Minor Scale
Natural minor scales follows the following formula:
W H W W H W W
The natural minor scale is simply the relative major scale but starting on a different note. In other words, both the natural minor scale and it’s relative major scale have the same notes.
For example, the C major scale has no sharps or flats. Its relative minor is A minor. A natural minor will therefore have no sharps or flats as well – the same notes as C major (identical notes!).
The notes will be A B C D E F G A
Another example could be D natural minor. D natural minor is the relative minor of F major. The F major scale has one flat. This means that D natural minor will also have one flat – the same notes.
The notes of D natural minor are:
D E F G A B flat C D
The Harmonic minor scale
Harmonic minor scales follow the following pattern:
W H W W H 3H H (Whole step, Half step, Whole, Whole, Half, three half steps, Half)
The harmonic minor scale, much like the natural minor scale, will have a relative major scale. This is the best place to start as it will give you the key signature.
As you saw above, the last interval is three half steps. The easiest way to think about this is sharpening the seventh note of the scale by a half step. This seventh note is also called the leading tone.
For example, A minor is relative to the C major scale. As we saw, both of these scales have no sharps or flats. The seventh note (leading tone) of A minor is a G, in the A harmonic minor scale, this becomes a G#, a half step larger than the original note.
One octave of the notes will be:
A B C D E F G# A
Another example could be D harmonic minor scale. This minor scale is the relative minor of F major. The F major scale has one flat. This means that D harmonic scale will also have one flat, but you will also need to raise the seventh note (leading tone) by a half step.
One octave of the notes of D harmonic minor scale are:
D E F G A B flat C# D
The harmonic minor scale is the same both ascending and descending i.e. the seventh note will be raised by a half step.
The Melodic Minor Scale
Melodic minor scales are slightly different as the ascending is different to the descending.
The formula for the ascending melodic minor scale is:
W H W W W W H
The formula for descending melodic minor scales is:
W W H W W H W
The descending melodic minor scale is the same as the natural minor scale. Remember, natural minor scales simply just use the key signature.
As with both the previous minor scales, the relative major scale will give you the key signature. Then the easiest way to think about this scale is to sharpen the sixth and seventh notes on the ascending scale by a half step.
One octave of the notes will be A B C D E F# G# A
And then you lower the sixth and seventh notes in the descending scale by a half step. This is the same as the natural minor scale.
The notes will be
A G F E D C B A
Another example could be D melodic minor. D melodic minor is the relative minor of F major. The F major scale has one flat. This means that D melodic minor will also have one flat, but you will have to raise the sixth and seventh notes when ascending.
The notes in D melodic minor scale ascending are:
D E F G A B C# D
The notes in D melodic minor scale descending are:
D C B flat A G F E D
How to Form Minor Piano Scales
How do you build minor scales for piano and keyboard?
Once you are familiar with the notes for each minor scale, you then need to know how to play them on the piano/keyboard. Many of these scales follow a basic fingering pattern. In order to build minor scales you must follow the above whole step and half step pattern. All minor scales work in the same way but you may incur different fingerings. Take a look at A natural minor scale below:
The ascending scale uses the fingering 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5
The descending scale uses the fingering 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1
Both the A harmonic minor scale and A melodic minor scales use the same fingering.
Let’s take a look at the fingering for all the piano minor scales.
Natural Minor Scales Fingering Charts
Below you can see the fingerings of all twelve natural minor scales:
- A natural minor
- Bb natural minor
- B natural minor
- C natural minor
- C# natural minor
- D natural minor
- Eb natural minor
- E natural minor
- F natural minor
- F# natural minor
- G natural minor
- G# natural minor.
Here are all the natural minor scales for piano in a handy pdf.
Harmonic Minor Scales Fingering Charts
Below you can see the fingerings of all twelve harmonic minor scales:
- A harmonic minor
- Bb harmonic minor
- B harmonic minor
- C harmonic minor
- C# harmonic minor
- D harmonic minor
- Eb harmonic minor
- E harmonic minor
- F harmonic minor
- F# harmonic minor
- G harmonic minor
- G# harmonic minor.
Download Pdf of all Harmonic Minor Scales for piano.
Melodic Minor Scales Fingering Charts
Below you can see the fingerings of all twelve melodic minor scales:
- A melodic minor
- Bb melodic minor
- B melodic minor
- C melodic minor
- C# melodic minor
- D melodic minor
- Eb melodic minor
- E melodic minor
- F melodic minor
- F# melodic minor
- G melodic minor
- G# melodic minor.
Here are all the melodic minor scales for piano in a handy PDF.
Tips for memorizing minor scales
Memorizing the minor scales for piano and indeed the major scales is vital to playing any piece of music. The best way to memorize these scales is to ensure that you experiment with them, don’t just play them up and then down.
Ensure to explore technique exercises, play the patterns in isolation, try practicing in a tonal centre (play each of the different minor scales all starting on the same tonic note) and of course make sure you play them a lot!
How are minor scales used in music?
When we see minor scales in our music, these are referred to as keys. Music can be in many different keys and the is why it is so important to learn your major scales and minor scales.
In order to know what key your piece is written in, you need to look at the key signature. The key signature will tell you what major scale the piece is in. In order to see whether your piece is in a minor key, you need to look at a combination of the key signature and the accidentals within the music.